, Salem, MA


June 13, 2014

Vet Connection: Canine flu: What you should know

Have you ever heard your dog cough and decided to wait to call the vet and see how it worked out? These days it may be a good idea to call your vet as soon as you hear that cough, due to an outbreak of canine influenza virus on the North Shore.

Coughing is a tricky thing. We don’t go to the doctor every time we cough. Sometimes, it is the common cold virus or an allergy, and we have to let it work its way through our system. Why should we bring our dogs in for a cough?

A cough can be something serious, such as an indication of end-stage heart disease, heartworm infection, parasitic worm or fluke migration through the lungs, fungal infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, foreign body, malformation of the trachea, and primary or metastatic cancer in the lungs or thyroid gland. If a cough persists for more than one or two days, you should definitely call your veterinarian.

Kennel cough is a constellation of signs caused by multiple bacteria and viruses. It usually involves a harsh cough with a gag at the end that sounds like the pet will vomit. The cough can last for one week to two months and keep you up all night with your dog, but it will not be lethal in 99.99 percent of the cases. Frequently, the cough happens when either the pet is excited or at night. Viruses such as parainfluenza virus or adenovirus can cause kennel cough. The bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica can co-infect and cause the cough.

Canine influenza virus infection (CIV) also causes a cough. The virus was first discovered in 2004 in dogs. Previously, the virus was an equine (horse) virus. It is a very rare event in evolution when the entire genome of a virus jumps species. It happened when retrovirus jumped from African chimpanzees to humans and we discovered HIV. This time, the virus jumped from horses to dogs. Having observed my dogs and many others in the horse barn devouring horse droppings like fine delicacies, I am not too shocked by this occurrence. Dogs ingesting horse meat could have caused the jump, as well. The newly adapted virus acts by destroying the cells that are the lining of the lungs or epithelial cells.

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